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14 April, 2021
 
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Virus-stranded cruise ships tread water off Cyprus

Mediterranean island hosting cruise liners for refueling and anchorage during COVID-19 crisis

Source: AFP

Half a dozen cruise ships have been stranded for up to nine months off Cyprus, looming large over a fishing village on the holiday island hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

Cyprus was quick to impose a stringent lockdown last March, shutting its air and sea ports as Covid-19 began to overwhelm hospitals elsewhere in Europe. The Mediterranean island, whose economy relies heavily on tourism and shipping, opened its waters two months later to cruise liners for refuelling and anchorage.

Carnival, one of the world's largest cruise operators, took up the offer, and its luxury ships have been anchored off the village of Moni since May, with the cruise industry immobilised by the pandemic. Lying around two kilometres (just over a mile) offshore, six cruise ships figure prominently and have become an attraction for snap-happy Cypriots.

Some of the ships have come and gone, but others have been anchored off Cyprus for nine months

"These ships are stuck here because there is nowhere to go; there is no business for the time being," said Marios Chrysanthou, captain of the nearby Saint Rafael marina, which is used to resupply and rotate the quarantined crews.

"I never saw anything like this," he told AFP.

"During our winter time they (normally) go to Australia or America, but this virus situation is everywhere now."

Some of the ships have come and gone, but others have been anchored off Cyprus for nine months.

The pandemic has seen Cyprus go from record tourist arrivals in 2019 to one of its worst ever years, with visitor numbers plunging 84 percent.

Arrivals slumped from almost four million in 2019 to less than 650,000 in 2020, the statistical service said.

Tourism usually contributes around 15 percent to gross domestic product, generating 2.68 billion euros ($3.26 billion) in 2019. The shipping sector accounts for seven percent.

The island is now in its second lockdown, with more than 240 Covid deaths and 35,000 cases.

The Cypriot government is reportedly earning 120,000 euros ($146,000) a month in fees for hosting the six vessels.

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